4 September 2019

The House of Commons voted last night by 328 to 301 to take control of the Order Paper today, which allows MPs to debate and vote on a Bill that would force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to request an Article 50 extension until 31 January, unless Parliament approves either an agreed deal or a No Deal exit by 19 October.

21 Conservative MPs voted against the government, resulting in Johnson’s first parliamentary defeat. In consequence, all of them had the party whip removed, leaving the current government 43 seats short of a majority.

If the Bill passes, the Government will table a motion to hold a general election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which would require two-thirds of MPs to approve it.

What the European press had to say about last night’s events

The European press has been closely following events in Westminster for weeks. However, last night’s events attracted an increased interest in the future of UK politics and what the loss of a majority means for the Brexit process.

France

French daily Le Monde described it as “another crazy day in Brexitland,” and a particularly bad day for Boris Johnson.

Le Point also described it as a “hot evening in Westminster.” The magazine writes that Johnson “thought he could compel the EU27, by threatening a No Deal Brexit, to come up with a new Withdrawal Agreement… This strategy of arm wrestling has exploded Tuesday night, in the Commons.” It concludes that the EU should focus “less on avoiding Brexit than limit its damages in order to build a future serene and strong relationship with the UK outside of the EU.”

Belgium

The Belgian French-language paper L’Écho says the UK Parliament has outpaced Johnson, adding, “It’s a new extraordinary turn of events in the Brexit process, which has seen many of them since three years.” It also argues that the Bill delaying Brexit “seems to be avoiding one danger (the threat of No Deal), but creates another one: the total paralysis of the country.”

The Dutch-language De Standaard says Parliament has crushed Johnson, but that the outcome of Brexit remains uncertain.

Germany

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calls it a “momentous defeat” for Johnson, saying that the atmosphere in Westminster is “poisoned.”

A comment in the paper notes, “It is not enough for Parliament to prohibit the government from pursuing a chaotic Brexit. MPs would have to present their own constructive proposals for a solution. These would include another extension – this time, the last one – and a second referendum.”

The business daily Handelsblatt says Johnson is “already fighting for his political survival” and his salvation can only be found in new elections.

A comment in the Tagesspiegel paper puts the blame on Johnson’s plan to prorogue Parliament, saying that “he wanted to paralyse Parliament, and strengthened the resistance.”

Spain

According to the daily El Pais, the UK Parliament was not impressed “with the popularity of Boris Johnson, nor was it intimidated by his bravado,” adding that the only thing Johnson achieved with his strategy was to “embolden his adversaries and reaffirm the conviction of many Conservative rebels that they must put the interests of the country ahead of those of their own party.”

Elsewhere, La Vanguardia, Catalonia’s daily newspaper, describes Johnson as an “arrogant cowboy” who has “shown his cards too soon,” while the rebels were prepared. It added, “it was a historic day, but many more remain. The show has just begun.”

Italy

Even the Italian press, mostly focused on the formation of a new coalition government in Rome, has something to say about Johnson’s defeat.

La Stampa argues it has been “one of the most dramatic days since the Second World War” in the UK.

Il Fatto Quotidiano says that although the instability of Italian democracy often attracts the world’s attention, it is time to pay attention to Johnson’s “dangerous attack on democracy,” adding, “What appears clearly is the conception that Johnson has of Parliament: a useless tinsel to be removed in order to achieve a goal.”

La Repubblica daily notes it is a “heavy defeat” for the Prime Minister, while an opinion piece in the paper says that while Johnson considers Winston Churchill a legend, but due to an irony of fate, the heir of his most beloved Prime Minister is among the Conservatives who voted against him (a reference to Sir Nicholas Soames, who had the whip removed after voting against the government).

Netherlands

An opinion blog in De Volkskrant says Boris Johnson is “losing the plot” while NRC Handelsblad says Johnson “lost his grip” following the Conservative rebellion.

Ireland

“When [Boris Johnson] stood at the despatch box on Tuesday night… The government benches were silent and anxious while Labour MPs, who had shrunk back into their seats last time, were energised and boisterous as they heckled the prime minister,” writes the Irish Times, adding, “Johnson tried all the tricks that worked so well for him before, babbling elegant hyperbole and taking low swipes at [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent says, “Since his days as a journalist, Boris Johnson has always had a way with words – but it appears he may be unable to talk himself out of the latest Brexit conundrum.”

Portugal

Summarising last night’s events, The Expresso paper says, “So goes the politics of a country which remains a reference for the democratic world.” It calls Brexit “the biggest geopolitical issue of the Old Continent,” adding that the crisis is still “well on its way” with both main parties still split and a government unable to govern.

Poland

Finally, according to Gazeta Wyborcza, Johnson is to blame for this situation, due to last week’s decision to prorogue Parliament.